scott poythress

Is Sleepy Hollow sexist in it’s depictions of historical figures?

This is something that’s been nagging at me since our first look at our second female historical figure - Betsy Ross - on Sleepy Hollow so I felt a little comparison was in order to see if I was imagining things/jumping to conclusions. 

To do this I looked at the potential age of the historical person at the time of being involved in the show’s timeline vs the age of the actor/actress playing them. We only know for sure Crane “died” in 1781 and not when he came to America so I used the widest margin imaginable - 1770-1781. It’s very hard to believe he was there for more than 11 years, more likely it’s somewhere closer to 7-8 years (if that) but better to err on the side of caution. My theory was that younger actresses were chosen for the historical women and older for the men, without that necessarily matching up with the age they would have been in actual history. 

I also wanted a side-by-side picture comparison with the actor/actress in costume vs the (first) portrait that shows up in a google search for that person to compare how they’re depicted in terms of costume/styling. My sense here was that the female historical figures were sexualized, dressed in less periodically accurate clothing and styled in a more modern, attractive way.


Betsy Ross (1752-1836)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 18-29

Actress Nikki Reed’s age: 27

Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 64-75

Actor Timothy Busfield’s age: 58

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 27-38

Actor Steven Weber’s age: 54

Abigail Adams (1744-1818)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 28-39

Actress Michelle Trachtenberg’s age: 29

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 29-40

Actor Scott Poythress’ age: 39

George Washington (1732-1799)

Approximate/possible age in SH’s timeline: 38-48

Actor Loius Herthum’s age: 59


While this is obviously not extensive or conclusive, for me it does confirm that there is a problem here. The men’s ages lean older - often a lot older than they could have been while Ichabod was alive to know them - with the exception of Ben Franklin, who still is styled and made to look older. The actors chosen are “realistic” choices - not generally considered attractive. The women are played by attractive actresses within the (generous) age range who look a lot less like their portraits. 

It goes without saying that there are also twice the men than women, and that’s despite me not including Paul Revere, Daniel Boone and other minor characters on the show who never had enough screentime to even really generate a good screencap. And precisely zero people of color, which is a related and no less important problem. 

Do better, Sleepy Hollow.